I’m picky about mysteries. I don’t like know-it-all detectives who conceal evidence from readers so that we have no chance of solving the mystery before the detective hands us the solution on a platter (I’m looking at you, M. Poirot). I don’t like amateurs who stumble into a mystery and suddenly become sleuths abetted by real police (cozy mysteries, mainly). But I love mysteries that take some of the trappings of the genre—determined investigators, layers of puzzles, etc.—and drop them somewhere strange.
To qualify for the sub-genre of weird mystery, it has to have a possibly supernatural or just deeply strange setting in addition to a crime and a detective. But it can’t just be a mashup, which has fun with genre stereotypes. The detective might not be an unreliable narrator, but there is always some question about how real their reality is. Weird mysteries give us a bigger mystery than solving a crime.
Mixing fantasy elements to a mystery novel makes it easier to see the existentialist elements of the genre. Not only do we try to solve the puzzle before the detective, we also wonder what they wonder: who are we? what are we doing? what if I’d followed a different path? what does it all mean? As readers of this blog will know, I love books that mess me up and weird mysteries definitely qualify.
Some of my favorite weird mysteries include:
- The City & the City, by China Mièville
- Radiance, by Catherynne Valente
- Afterlife, by Marcus Sakey
- Slade House, by David Mitchell
- Woman With a Blue Pencil, by Gordon McAlpine
I sincerely hope more authors start making their mysteries weird.